Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘jay town’

Jay

Posted by Admin on April 9, 2015

Now that Idiomation has tracked down jaywalking, jay driving, and jay town, the matter of what a jay is still remains to be solved!  Thanks to ongoing thorough research, the expression flap a jay cropped up.

To flap a jay is to swindle someone who is easily fooled, where flap means to manage adroitly and turn over … at least that’s according to the “Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant.”   This dictionary was compiled and edited by Albert Barrère (died 1896) — author of “Argot And Slang” — and American humorist and folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland (15 August 1824 – 20 March 1903) — author of “The English Gypsies And Their Language” and other novels — and published in 1889.  The book included English, American, and Anglo-Indian slang as well as pidgin English, Gypsy jargon and what Messrs. Barrère and Leland considered to be irregular phraseology.

In the December 19, 1884 edition of the Pall Mall Gazette, warning words of wisdom were shared with readers about jays, not meaning the birds.  In fact, readers were warned of the dangers of larcenists who preyed upon gullible people.

The intending larcenist will strike up a conversation with a likely looking jay in a public conveyance and win his friendship.

While it wasn’t an expression that was used at great length over the generations, it is one that survived intact over the years.

Elizabethan dramatist, poet, and translator George Chapman (1559 – 12 May 1643) influenced the Stoicism movement.  It was his translation of “Homer” that was the standard English version for generations.  And it was Chapman who found himself imprisoned along with Ben Jonson and John Marston in 1605 by order of King James I of Britain because the king found their play, “Eastward, Ho!” offensive to their countrymen.

On November 16, 1632, the play “The Ball” by George Chapman and James Shirley was performed for the first time, licensed by Sir Henry Herbert.  The play centers on Lady Lucina who finds amusement in mocking and ridiculing her unwanted suitors.  The play makes the most of how easily it is to play those who are easily led to believe things that aren’t as they seem, thereby taking advantage of them.  The following happens in Act Two of this play.

LUCINA
You will see me again.  Ha, ha, ha!  Scutilla.

SCUTILLA
Here, madam, almost dead with stifling my laughter.  Why, he’s gone for a licence; you did enjoin him no silence.

LUCINA
I would have ’em all meet, and brag o’ their several hopes, they will not else be sensible, and quit me of their tedious visitation.  Who’s next?  I would the colonel were come, I long to have a bout with him.

SOLOMON
Mr. Bostock, madam.

LUCINA
Retire, and give the jay admittance.

Enter Bostock

BOSTOCK
Madam, I kiss your fair hand.

LUCINA
Oh, Mr. Bostock!

William Shakespeare’s play, “Cymbeline” published in 1623 was set in Ancient Britain and is based on legends that were well-known at the time.  In Shakespeare’s play, Imogen (the daughter of King Cymbeline) runs off and marries Posthumus (who is below her status) instead of Cloten (who is of equal status to Imogen).  Posthumus is exiled to Italy where he meets Iachimo who bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen.  It’s a familiar enough scenario when it comes to Shakespeare’s plays.

In Act III, Scene iv which takes place in the country ner Milford-Haven, a discussion takes place between Piranio and Imogen in which Imogen says:

IMOGEN
    I false! Thy conscience witness: Iachimo,
    Thou didst accuse him of incontinency;
    Thou then look’dst like a villain; now methinks
    Thy favour’s good enough. Some jay of Italy
    Whose mother was her painting, hath betray’d him:
    Poor I am stale, a garment out of fashion;
    And, for I am richer than to hang by the walls,
    I must be ripp’d:–to pieces with me!–O,
    Men’s vows are women’s traitors! All good seeming,
    By thy revolt, O husband, shall be thought
    Put on for villany; not born where’t grows,
    But worn a bait for ladies.

What this shows is that jay in Shakespeare’s play and in George Chapman’s play was a word that was known to their audiences.  This means it is accepted that the word and its associated meaning goes back to at least 1600, and most likely to the mid to late 1500s.

It also seems that the word and the behavior attributed to those who are accused of being jays is related to the European bird, Garrulus glandarinus, which was more commonly known as the jai in Old French from the Late Latin word gaius which means a jay.

Posted in Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Jay Town

Posted by Admin on April 7, 2015

In researching the terms jaywalking and jay driving, Idiomation wondered what the term jay meant, and co research continued.  In our travels, we came across another popular expression of the day:  jay town.

The term was used in a story titled, “Home” that was published in “Good Housekeeping” magazine in the September 1920 edition.  The story was written by Kathleen Norris (16 July 1880 – 18 January 1966) and illustrated by Harry Russell (H.R.) Ballinger (4 September 1892 – 3 July 1993).  It was a story about a woman named Fanny Bromley Lucas and her dear friend Angela Phillips, and takes place over tea.  The story ran the gamut, talking about Arizona, California, Canada and Mexico.

He was my first beau; he’s the only man I’ve ever cared for or ever will.  But, Fanny, when we got home from our honeymoon, he was first with his uncle, and then in real estate with Joe Bonestell.  Nothing satisfied him.  This was a jay town, and the people were webfoots.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:  Kathleen Norris represented Good Housekeeping at the Democratic convention in 1920.

The Lodi Sentinel of September 26, 1907 republished a news article from the New York Times about the Reverend Robert J. Burdette (30 July 1844 – 19 November 1914) of Pasadena, California.  The former Burlington Hawkeye newspaperman, as he had been known across America, had recently visited his home town of New York City, and was disappointed with what he experienced.  The article was entitled, “When New York Is A Jay Town” and included this in commentary in the first paragraph.

His reflection on his return home is that New York is a “jay town — in August.  There are a few of us, perhaps three and a half millions, who are in town every August, and maybe we are all “jays.”  

And indeed the term jay town was a derogatory term as it appeared in the 1909 edition of “Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase” compiled by British writer, novelist, playwright (and creator of one of the first female detectives in fiction) James Redding Ware (1832 – 1909) and published by G. Routledge & Sons in 1909.  This dictionary identified the term jay town as an Americanism from 1889 that mean something was valueless.  However, it’s an older term than that.  In Volume 8, Number 201 of “Life Magazine” published on November 4, 1886, Alan Dale wrote this about jay towns in a brief article for the magazine.

Between the acts I heard the remark from the lips of a swallow-tailed:  “What do these folks take us for?  If they had tried this on some jay town, it might have been less unpardonable.”  Of course I did not know what a “jay town” was, nor do I know yet, nor shall I ever know, but I felt it was something rightly opprobrious and pleasingly condemnatory.

Idiomation was unable to find an earlier published version of the expression, however, the term was well enough known to be published in a national magazine (even though it was in quotation marks) and that means the term was one that, while unfamiliar to some, was familiar to many.  The expression is therefore tagged to at least 1880, and most likely dates back considerably earlier.

Research for the term jay continues.  Tune in again on Thursday to see what else Idiomation has uncovered.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »